Twenty-five years ago today, ‘90s kids discovered something they didn’t know they needed: a piece of the Aggro Crag.
Alas, no one could simply circle it in the Toys ‘R’ Us holiday catalog. If you really wanted a piece of the mountain, later called the Mega Crag in season three, you had to don the blue, purple, or red uniform as a competitor on Nickelodeon GUTS.
Amongst the tween programming block that also included Legends of the Hidden Temple and Nick Arcade, the series has come to represent an era of a specific genre of TV that has yet to be successfully replicated. An action competition show, young players were given the chance to perform in a literal sports fantasy, provided they didn’t mind doing it on national television. Today, nostalgia for the series is alive and well within its original demographic, who are still reminiscing about what made GUTS such great entertainment (conversations that are perhaps sparked by watching Mike O’Malley on Glee or noticing his writing credits on Shameless).
ET visited the set multiple times throughout the show’s four-season run, and to celebrate the anniversary we’re bringing you these behind-the-scenes facts about the Nickelodeon classic.
1. GUTS had a mascot. Really.
Its name was ‘Stretch,’ and the seemingly human relative of Cheesasaurus Rex only inhabited onscreen graphics for event categories during the first couple seasons.
2. While developing the series, producers would run ideas by kids.
“The development process of the show started with Nickelodeon saying, ‘We'd like to do some kind of crazy, off-the-wall sports show,’ and then from that we went out and talked to kids and pitched them ideas,” Andy Bamberger (vice-president of production of Nickelodeon Studios) told ET.
3. One idea that was axed: a human pinball game.
GUTS had its fair share of events with bizarre premises (looking at you, recumbent tricycle races), but this one did not make the cut.
4. Just one word: ELASTICS.
“We do a lot of elastic sports events, which involve using elastic cords to give kids heightened gymnastic ability,” Albie Hecht (co-creator and executive producer of GUTS) told ET. A major component of GUTS was the introduction of elastic sports, which allowed contestants to sometimes fly 15 feet through the air to dunk basketballs or perform a macro-sized long jump.
5. Potential contestants were tested for agility and enthusiasm.
This audition phase included testing for gymnastic ability, basketball scoring and obstacle course speed. Producers also wanted to ensure kids weren’t being pressured to be on the show and that competing on GUTS (and national television) was something they wanted to do.
6. The “Extreme Arena” was born out of a manic brainstorming session.
Early on, producers got together to discuss building a mini-arena where every event could be held in one location. During one such energetic meeting, a marker was passed around as everyone took turns writing down ideas for their vision of what the arena should contain. By the end, Scott Fishman (Nickelodeon executive in charge of production) claims the sketch pad they were using looked like it had been written with “a 3-year old’s crayon.”
7. Nickelodeon hired a professional Hollywood stunt team to make sure each event was safe for kids.
“Safety is the No. 1 concern when we're dealing with kids at Nickelodeon, and there's a number of steps that we take in order to ensure safety,” said Fishman. Watching the show now, you can easily spot a dozen adults who look terrified that Brandon from Newark might get tangled in the elastic jungle.
8. The stunt coordinator made Nick executives test out the events and equipment.
“They thought it was easy, but it was not easy, as they found out,” stunt coordinator Kim Kahana told ET. He believed it was important for them to get a sense of each event from a kid’s perspective.
9. The most common injury: bruises from bumping into the aerial bridge.
Kahana claimed they made each event “kid proof,” but the few injuries they encountered were mostly from jumping back onto the aerial bridge.
10. AJ McLean was once a contestant.
Aside from being a member of the best-selling boy band of all time, McLean also has a silver medal from GUTS to taunt Justin Jeffre with.
11. Former contestants who weren’t in the Backstreet Boys have gone on to do some pretty cool stuff, too.
12. Moira ‘Mo’ Quirk did indeed require some height assistance to appear in frame with co-host Mike O’Malley.
13. Part of O’Malley’s job was keeping the kids excited and energetic throughout the day.
“My stand-up comedy experience gives me that witty banter, so I can do that play-by-play stuff and keep the kids going,” O’Malley told ET. He added, “But the energy comes right from the kids. They're so ready to aggressively attack these events.”
14. O’Malley and Quirk believed what made GUTS special was that kids simply wanted to do their best.
“It's not a show where people are competing for prizes and money,” said O’Malley. Shots fired at Double Dare! As kids paddled through the wave pool, there was no prospect of a shopping spree or brand-new in-line skates. “This is kind of new for Nick in that it's not a game show. It's about what the kids can achieve and not about stuff they can get,” Quirk told ET.
15. There was a GUTS Nintendo game.
From what we’ve heard about preordering of the SNES, simply attaining the new Nintendo console was an online Aggro Crag of its own. The video game is also one of the most watched installments from the popular YouTube channel Game Grumps.